Over and over again in the gospels, we see Jesus clearly moved by people’s faith in him. In Matthew 8:5-13, Jesus was amazed at the ‘great faith’ of the Roman Centurion. In Mark 6:1-6, we find Jesus equally amazed at folks from his hometown but on this occasion, it was at their lack of faith! As we come to the fourth and the last record of Jesus’ exorcisms in Mark 9:14-29, we see another example of this.

When Jesus, Peter and James returned to the other disciples after their ‘mountaintop’ experience, they found them in heated discussions among themselves and with the teachers of the law. Mark doesn’t tell us the ‘what’ of their argument but he does tell us the ‘who’ of their argument. It involves a father whose son is rendered mute by an evil spirit. Other symptoms include seizures and convulsions. The devastated and desperate father had brought the boy to the disciples for prayer and deliverance but they could not cast the evil spirit out of the boy.

The disciples’ (and the crowd’s) unbelief dismayed Jesus deeply to which he said, “O unbelieving generation …how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me” (Mark 9:19). The boy’s father hanging on to what little faith he has, entreats Jesus, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!”. Garland explains the implied skepticism in the man’s plea well: “His plea reveals that he does not doubt that Jesus would like to do something if he could, but he is uncertain whether Jesus can prevail in such a pernicious case”. His response draws a sharp rebuke from Jesus, “If you can?…Everything is possible for him who believes” (9:23). Jesus’ statement however as Garland writes, “…does not mean that faith can accomplish anything but that those who have faith will not set limits to the power of God”.

The boy’s father repents of his unbelief but is honest at the same time, “I want to believe Jesus but I don’t think I have the kind of faith that expects the impossible. Help me have that kind of faith!”. Jesus drives out the evil spirit from the boy and he is fully restored. The story ends with Jesus privately debriefing the disciples over their failures. Jesus’ explanation is simple: they failed because they had not prayed as they were too busy arguing among themselves and with the teachers of the law. Prayer and faith are intertwined. If we pray, then we must pray in faith. If we say we have faith, then prayer is the evidence. As A.J. Gordon said, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed”.

The state and health of our faith absolutely matters to Jesus because we are saved by grace through faith. It is the one who lives by faith who is righteous. That is why it is impossible to please God without faith. At the same time, Jesus gets our struggle with faith like the boy’s father. However, to remain in unbelief is not an option. Let’s be proactive in asking God to grow our faith in him, praying honestly the way the boy’s father did.

Coram Deo and have a week that’s ‘faith-full’!

Mark Ng